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Comments on the dilemma in the October issue: A request for euthanasia: advising a colleague
  1. Richard Brown
  1. City University of Hong Kong, Kowloon, Hong Kong

Abstract

In the dilemma discussed in the October issue of In Practice, a colleague reluctantly accepted the request to euthanase Bob, a healthy, two-year-old cat. The client was moving house and was not interested in rehoming. Later, a nurse said she could find a good home for the cat. What would you advise? (IP, October 2016, vol 38, pp 469-470). Andrew Knight suggested that the colleague call the client and explain that a new option had arisen. Bob could go to a good home that was far away from the client, so there would be no chance of them seeing him again. However, if the client declined, the dilemma remained. One option might be to tell the client that, in view of the new circumstances, they could no longer agree to the euthanasia; instead they could offer to refund the payment and refer the client to another veterinarian for a second opinion.

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I WONDER if it is possible and reasonable to separate the animal welfare and the ethics issues in this case? Some would argue that since the cat does not know the years of life that it is missing, if it is euthanased correctly, there is no difference in strict animal welfare terms to it being euthanased now as compared to when it is geriatric. This argument is used particularly with commercial animals that many of us eat. If one admitted the welfare was the same but the ethics was different then one should put a moral value on a day of life. If we do not, then we tend to one of the advices attributed to Solon ‘Count no man happy until he be dead’.

Valuing a day of life might well require units. The very simplest would be quality-of-life (QoL) as a fraction of 1 (1 being the perfect day) multiplied by time in days or years. Then, in this case, one might say the animal welfare is the same for either choice, but the ethics are such that there is a potential loss if the cat is euthanased.

The reason for thinking in this way is that it does have implications for farming. There has been much progress in examining welfare on farms, including the concept of a ‘good life’ (Edgar and others 2013). But these do not presently seem to incorporate time as a major element. In ethical terms, the request for euthanasia of the cat at two years of age may not be completely dissimilar to a request to slaughter a bullock at two years of age. As a profession, I do not think we should be afraid to attempt these estimations; it may assist our deliberations. As I understand it we still do not have enough data to perform lifelong QoL assessments (Green and Mellor 2011). But I think we should pursue a practical solution to this problem. This is because we are not Utopians but accept that ethical choices are shades of grey and circumstances vary. It may well be acceptable on utilitarian grounds in a developing country, where food is limited, to deny an animal years of life so people can live. But this may be less acceptable in developed countries with obesity epidemics.

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